September 15, 2011
Only time will tell whether Darren Clarke finds a spot reserved for him in the World Golf Hall of Fame. Until then, the British Open champion can claim one distinction in Hall-related trivia.
Clarke is believed to be the only man to win a major title after being turned down for Hall of Fame membership.
Talk about improving your odds.
A year ago, just 6 percent of Hall voters thought the easygoing Northern Ireland pro deserved a plaque in St. Augustine, Fla. This week brings Clarke's third appearance on the International ballot, albeit with a far glossier dossier.
Good for Clarke. But it does raise the question (again) about why an entity that in any given week can show us a 40-something pro in PGA Tour contention has chosen to establish Hall of Fame eligibility at age 40.
In terms of career longevity, that would be akin to Tom Brady being up for election to the Pro Football Hall of Fame last summer. Then again, football — along with baseball and basketball — waits for players to hang it up.
That's the little asterisk golf carries.
"They don't retire," Hall of Fame operating chief Jack Peter is fond of saying.
In some cases, they're just getting started.
Vijay Singh has collected 22 PGA Tour victories since turning 40, five more than Sam Snead's old record. He has added six wins to his total since being enshrined in 2005.
Kenny Perry wasn't a Hall of Fame candidate when he turned 40. Eleven years and 10 PGA Tour wins later, he's a ballot mainstay.
Jim Furyk is up for election for the first time but is less than a year removed from arguably his best season on tour — three of his 16 career wins, which also brought the FedEx Cup bonus bounty.
Then there's the case of David Toms, who qualified for the ballot four years ago upon turning 40. But after receiving scant votes the first time out and zero the next, he was removed. Now he's enjoying a resurgence. (For those wondering, Hall officials have the right to restore him to the ballot.)
And now the 43-year-old Clarke, whose 22 victories worldwide certainly make him worthy of appearing before electors. No one else, though, has won his lone major after first appearing on the ballot.
When Ernie Els was enshrined last May, he acknowledged feeling a little awkward.
"I feel so much drive in me," he said. "It's kind of a funny situation where you get into something like this while still very active as a player."
It hasn't been a great post-induction stretch for Els, though he has been an escape artist in avoiding the FedEx Cup cut.
Maybe there's a message in that too — there's no time to bask in Hall enshrinement when you're still grinding.
These days, 50 seems a far more natural transitional age. By that time, most top names are ready to step over to the Champions Tour. It doesn't seem a bad Hall of Fame threshold, either.
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